Faces of Change: Votes for Women

Press release
A suffragette meeting from 1906
Published : 19 Mar 2018

National Trust exhibition celebrates the women’s suffrage anniversary in partnership with National Portrait Gallery.

To mark the centenary of the People’s Representation Act which gave some women the right to vote, the National Trust is partnering with the National Portrait Gallery for a touring exhibition to three Trust places. 

Drawn from the National Portrait Gallery Collection, the exhibition includes well-known but also rarely seen paintings, drawings, photographs and archival documents. They will be displayed alongside items from each property’s collections or archives to bring portraiture and places together.

The touring exhibition presents an overview of the campaign for Votes for Women from the late 19th century until 1918.  It will include portraits of key figures such as suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughters Christabel and Sylvia, and surveillance photographs of militant suffragettes, issued to the National Portrait Gallery by Scotland Yard during the height of activist violence.

Visitors will also be able to see portraits of women and men on both sides of the suffrage debate including doctors, writers, actors and politicians. Each place will show how it connects to this national story.

Also on display will be portraits representing the legacy of the suffrage campaign, including a drawing of Nancy Astor, the first woman to take her seat as an MP in the House of Commons, by John Singer Sargent, alongside a photograph of MP Ellen Wilkinson leading the Jarrow March in 1936.

The Workhouse, Nottinghamshire, 29 April – 22 July 2018

Beginning at The Workhouse in Nottinghamshire, the exhibition will be seen not only in the context of the working women who joined the campaign but also those whose lives were deeply affected by the lack of political representation. The exhibition has a local focus on the work of Lady Laura Elizabeth Ridding, the first female guardian of The Workhouse Southwell and a Founder member of the National Union of Women Workers. Items from the property’s collection will include original photographs and objects which shed light on the conditions of women’s work at The Workhouse.

Killerton, Devon, 4 August – 31 October 2018

The exhibition then moves to Killerton in Devon where two generations of Acland women held deeply divided views on women’s suffrage. Gertrude Acland was a founder member of Exeter’s anti-suffrage league whilst her niece, Eleanor Acland, was a founder member of the Liberal Women’s Suffrage Union. The display includes portraits of those who, like Gertrude, did not support votes for women. Alongside the exhibition, a display of fashion from Killerton’s collection will explore how women’s dress became politicised during the campaign.

Mount Stewart, County Down, 9 November 2018 – 03 February 2019

The final location for the exhibition will be Mount Stewart in Northern Ireland which has a history of extraordinary women, notably Edith, Lady Londonderry, the founder of the Women’s Legion.  Here the exhibition will not only look at her role in the campaign for women’s votes, it will spark discussion about the role and tactics employed by the peaceful suffragists compared to the militant suffragettes. Items from the property’s collection will include Edith, Lady Londonderry’s Women’s Legion Uniform, the military DBE awarded to her for war work in 1917, and portraits by society painters John Singer Sargent and Philip de László.

Tom Freshwater, National Public Programmes Manager, National Trust says:

“Anniversaries such as the centenary of women’s suffrage provide a special opportunity to shine a light on some of the remarkable people who shaped our past. These places ranged from grand country estates like Mount Stewart to humble institutions like The Workhouse, all united by women and men campaigning for – and sometimes against – the struggle to give women the vote.

“We are delighted that ‘Faces of Change’ will enable the National Trust and the National Portrait Gallery to explore together this important anniversary through our joint collections and to put the people and their stories into a national context.” 

Rosie Broadley, 19th and 20th-Century Collections Curator, National Portrait Gallery says:  “The National Portrait Gallery is delighted to have the opportunity to share its collection of portraits of key figures in the campaign for women’s suffrage with three wonderful National Trust properties.  Some of the works in the exhibition have special resonance with these properties and it is very exciting to see these stories brought to life through this collaboration.”

Both organisations are staging their own year-long commemorations to mark the women’s suffrage centenary. For its Women and Power programme, the National Trust is holding events and exhibitions to explore the lives of those who fought for the vote, as well as others who influenced change throughout history.

The National Portrait Gallery is holding Rebel Women, to include displays, a trail highlighting inspirational women in the collection, and a rich programme of events and activities for schools to inspire and engage young people.